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INTRODUCTION, Rev. i. 4-20.
Ver. 4. “John to the seven Churches11 Lest any should charge me with a slovenly omission at the very outset of my work, let me observe that the words “which are,” finding here a place in most modern editions of our Bible, have no place in the exemplar edition of 1611.in Asia.”—So far as the Apocalypse is allowed to witness for its own authorship, it is difficult to refuse to find in these words a strong internal argument that we have here an authentic work of St. John. The writer avouches himself as “John;” but, though there may have been Johns many in the Church at this time, John the Presbyter and others, still it is well-nigh impossible to conceive any other but John the Apostle who would have named himself 14by this name alone, with no further style or addition. We instinctively feel that for any one else there would have been. an affectation of simplicity, concealing a most real arrogance, in the very plainness of this title, in the assumption that thus to mention himself was sufficient to ensure his recognition, or that he had a right to appropriate this name in so absolute a manner to himself. The unique position in the Church of St. John, the beloved Apostle, and now the sole surviving Apostle, the one remaining link between the faithful of this time and the earthly life of their Lord, abundantly justified in him that which would have ill become any other; just as a king or queen, as representative persons in a nation, will sign by their Christian names only, but not any other besides. Despite all which has been urged to avoid this conclusion, it is assuredly either John the Apostle and Evangelist who writes the Apocalypse; or one who, assuming his style and title, desires to pass himself off as John—in other words a falsarius. Are the opposers of St. John’s authorship of this Book prepared for the alternative?
Of the seven Churches which St. John addresses here I reserve to speak in particular when we reach the nominal enumeration of them (ver. 11); but as this is the only place where they are described as Churches “in Asia,” it may be needful to say a 15few words concerning the “Asia” which is intended. We may trace two opposite movements going on in the names of countries, analogous to like movements which are continually finding place in other words. Sometimes they grow more and more inclusive, are applied in their later use to far wider tracts of the earth than they were in their earlier. It is thus with the name “Italy.” Designating at one time only the extreme southern point of the central peninsula of Europe, the name crept up and up, till in the time of Augustus it obtained the meaning which it has ever since retained, including all within the Alps. “Holland” is another example in the same kind. Some names, on the other hand, of the widest reach at the beginning, gradually contract their meaning, till in the end they designate no more than a minute fraction of that which they designated at the beginning. “Asia” furnishes a good example of this. In the New Testament, as generally in the language of men when the New Testament was written, Asia meant not what it now means for us, and had once meant for the Greeks, one namely of the three great continents of the old world (Æschylus, Prom. 412; Pindar, Olymp. 7. 18; Herodotus, iv. 38), nor yet even that region which geographers about the fourth century of our era began to call “Asia Minor;” but a strip of the western seaboard containing 16hardly a third portion of this: cf. 1 Pet. i. 1; Acts ii. 9; vi. 9. “Asia vestra,” says Cicero (Pro Flacc. 27), addressing some Asiatics, “constat ex Phrygiâ, Mysiâ, Cariâ, Lydiâ;” its limits being nearly identical with those of the kingdom which Attalus III. bequeathed to the Roman people. Take “Asia” in this sense, and there will be little or no exaggeration in the words of the Ephesian silversmith, that “almost throughout all Asia” Paul had turned away much people from the service of idols (Acts xix. 26); words which must seem to exceed even the limits of an angry hyperbole to those not acquainted with this restricted use of the term.
“Grace be unto you and peace.”—This opening salutation may fitly remind us (for in reading the Apocalypse we are often in danger of forgetting it), that the Book is an Epistle, that, besides containing within its bosom those seven briefer Epistles addressed severally to the seven Churches in particular, it is itself an Epistle addressed to them as a whole, and as representing in their mystic unity all the Churches, or the Church (ii. 7, 11, 23, &c.). Of this larger Epistle, namely the Apocalypse itself, these seven Churches are the original receivers; not as having a nearer or greater interest in it than any other portion of the Universal Church; though as members of that Church they have an 17interest in it as near and great as can be conceived (i. 3; xxii. 18, 19); but on account of this their representative character, of which there will be occasion presently to speak. And being such an Epistle, it opens with the most frequently recurring apostolic salutation: “Grace and peace.” This is the constant salutation of St. Paul (Rom. i. 7; 1 Cor. i. 3, &c.), with only the exception of the two Epistles to Timothy, where “mercy” finds place between “grace and peace;” cf. 2 John 3; the salutation also of St. Peter in both his Epistles; while St. James employs the less distinctively Christian “greeting” (χαίρειν, i. 1; cf. Acts xxiii. 26).
“From Him which is and which was, and which is to come.”—On the departure from the ordinary rules of grammar, and apparent violation of them in these words, ἀπὸ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, there will be something more to say when we reach the first clause of the next verse. Doubtless the immutability of God, “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever” (Heb. xiii. 8), is intended to be expressed in this immutability of the name of God, in this absolute resistance to change or even modification which that name here presents. “I am the Lord; I change not” (Mal. iii. 6), this is what is here declared; and there could be no stronger consolation for the faithful than thus to 18be reminded that He who is from everlasting to everlasting, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jam. i. 17), was on their side; how then should they “be afraid of a man that shall die, and the son of man which shall be made as grass” (Isai. li. 12, 13)?
And yet we must not understand the words, “and which is to come,” as though they declared the “æternitas a parte post” in the same way as “which was” expresses the “æternitas a parte ante.” It is difficult to understand how so many should assume without further question that ὁ ἐρχόμενος here is = ὁ ἐσόμενος, and that thus we have the eternity of God expressed here, so far as it can be expressed, in forms of time: “He who was, and is, and shall be.” But how ὁ ἐρχόμενος should ever have this significance it is hard to perceive. There is a certain ambiguity about our translation; it cannot be accused of incorrectness; yet, on the other hand, one does not feel sure that when our Translators rendered, “which is to come,” they did not mean “which is to be.” The Rheims, which is here kept right by the Vulgate (“et qui venturus est”), so renders the words as to exclude ambiguity, “and which shall come.” If any urge that “which is, and which was,” present and past, require to be completed with a future, “and which shall be,” to this it may be replied, that plainly they do not require 19to be so completed, seeing that at xi. 17, no such complement finds place; for the words καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, have no right to a place there in the text. And then, on the other hand, there is every thing to recommend the grammatical interpretation. What is the key-note to this whole Book? Surely it is, “I come quickly. The world seems to have all things its own way, to kill my servants; but I come quickly.” With this announcement the Book begins, i. 7; with this it ends, xxii. 7, 12, 20; and this is a constantly recurring note through it all, ii. 5, 16; iii. 11; vi. 17; xi. 18; xiv. 7; xvi. 15; xviii. 20. It is Christ’s word of comfort, or, where they need it, of warning, to his friends; of terror to his foes. Origen further notes the evidence which this language, rightly interpreted, yields for the equal divinity of the Son with the Father (De Princ. § 10): “Ut autem unam et eandem omnipotentiam Patris ac Filii esse cognoscas, audi hoc modo Joannem in Apocalypsi dicentem, Haec dicit Dominus Deus, qui est, et qui erat, et qui venturus est, omnipotens. Qui enim venturus est, quis est alius nisi Christus?”—There should be no comma dividing “which is” from the clause following, “and which was.” These rather form one sentence, which is to be balanced with the other, “and which is to come.”
“And from the seven Spirits which are before 20his throne.”—Some have understood by “the seven Spirits,” the seven principal Angels, the heavenly realities of which “the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king’s face, and which sat the first in the kingdom” (Esth. i. 14), the “seven counsellors” (Ezra vii. 14), were a kind of earthly copy; room for whom had been found in the later Jewish angelology (Tob. xii. 15), and the seal of allowance set on the number seven in this very Book (Rev. viii. 2). And these have not been merely Roman Catholic expositors, such as Bossuet and Ribera, tempted to this interpretation by their zeal for the worshipping of Angels; but others with no such temptations, as Beza, Hammond, Mede (in a sermon on Zech. iv. 10, Works, 1672, p. 40; cf. pp. 833, 908). They claim some of the Fathers for predecessors in the same line of interpretation; Hilary, for example, Tract. in Ps. 118, Lit. 21, § 5. Clement of Alexandria is also claimed by Hammond; but neither in the passage cited nor in the context (Strom. vi. 16) can I find that he affirms anything of the kind. But this interpretation, which after all is that only of a small minority either of ancients or moderns, must be rejected without hesitation. Angels, often as they are mentioned in this Book, are never called “Spirits.” So too, in testimony of their ministering condition, their creaturely state, they always stand (Rev. viii. 2; Luke i. 19; 1 Kings xxii. 19, 21), but these Spirits “are” (ἐστιν) before the throne. Again, how is it possible to conceive the Apostle desiring grace and peace to the Church from the Angels, let them be the chiefest Angels which are, and not from God alone? or how can we imagine Angels, created beings, interposed here between the Father and the Son, and thus set as upon an equal level with Them; the Holy Ghost meanwhile being omitted, as according to this interpretation He must be, in this solemn salutation of the Churches Where again would be the singular glory claimed for Himself by the Son in those words, “He that hath the seven Spirits of God” (iii. 1)? what transcendant prerogative in the fact that these Angels, no less than all created things, were within his dominion?
There is no doubt that by “the seven Spirits” we are to understand, not indeed the sevenfold operations of the Holy Ghost, but the Holy Ghost sevenfold in his operations. Neither need there be any difficulty in reconciling this interpretation, as Mede urges, with the doctrine of his personality. It is only that He is regarded here not so much in his personal unity, as in his manifold energies; for “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. xii. 4). The matter could not be put better than it is by Richard of St. Victor: “Et a septem 22Spiritibus, id est, a septiformi Spiritu, qui simplex quidem est per naturam, septiformis per gratiam;” and compare Delitzsch, Bibl. Psychologie, pp. 34, 147. The manifold gifts, operations, energies of the Holy Ghost are here represented under the number seven, being, as it is, the number of completeness in the Church. We have anticipations of this in the Old Testament. When the prophet Isaiah would describe how the Spirit should be given not by measure to Him whose name is The Branch, the enumeration of the gifts is sevenfold (xi. 2); and the seven eyes which rest upon the stone which the Lord has laid can mean nothing else but this (Zech. iii. 9; cf. iv. 10; Rev. v. 6). On the number “seven,” and its significance in Scripture and elsewhere, but above all in this Book, there will be something presently to be said.
Ver. 5. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness.”—In the last of these seven Epistles He calls Himself “the faithful and true witness” (iii. 14); as, therefore, we shall meet these words again, and they will be there more conveniently dealt with, I will not now do more than quote Richard of St. Victor’s noble comment upon them: “Testis fidelis, quia de omnibus quæ per Eum testificanda erant in mundo testimonium fidele perhibuit. Testis fidelis, quia quæcunque audivit a Patre fideliter discipulis suis nota fecit. 23Testis fidelis, quia viam Dei in veritate docuit, nec Ei cura de aliquo fuit, nec personas hominum respexit. Testis fidelis, quia reprobis damnationem, et electis salvationem nunciavit. Testis fidelis, quia veritatem quam verbis docuit, miraculis confirmavit. Testis fidelis, quia testimonium Sibi a Patre nec in morte negavit. Testis fidelis, quia de operibus malorum et bonorum in die judicii testimonium verum dabit.”—A reference to the original, where the nominative ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός is in apposition to the genitive Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, will show that we have here one of the many departures from the ordinary grammatical construction, with which this Book abounds. The officious emendations of transcribers have caused a large number of these, though not this-one, to disappear from our received text; but in any critical edition of the Greek original we are struck by their immense multitude. To regard these, which some have done, as evidences of St. John’s helplessness in the management of Greek, is to regard them altogether fromn a wrong point of view. Rather, we should say, to take the case immediately before us, the doctrinal interest here overbears the grammatical. Düsterdieck very well: “Das Gewicht der Vorstellungen selbst durchbricht die Schranken der regelrechten Form; die abrupte Redeweise hebt die gewaltige Selbstindigkeit aller drei Prädicate.” 24At all costs that all-important ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός, with the other two titles of the Lord which follow, shall be maintained in the dignity and emphasis of the casus rectus. Cf. xx. 2, where ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος (changed in the received text into τὸν ὄφιν τὸν ἀρχαῖον) is in like manner in apposition to τὸν δράκοντα, and compare further xiv. 12; but above all, and as making quite clear that St. John adopted these constructions with his eyes open, and for a distinct purpose, the remarkable ἀπὸ ὁ ὢν κ. τ. λ.. of the verse preceding that now under consideration.22 There is a good discussion on these grammatical anomalies in the Apocalypse in Lücke’s Einleitung, pp. 458-464.
“The first begotten of the dead.”—Cf. Col. i. 18, where very nearly the same language occurs, and the same title is given to the Lord: ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν here, πρωτ. ἐκ τ. νεκρῶν there. The phrases are not precisely identical in meaning; and even were they so, the suggestion of Hengstenberg, that St. John here builds upon St. Paul, setting his seal to the prior Apostle’s word, seems to me highly unnatural. Glorious as this language is, who does not feel how easily two Apostles, quite independent of one another, might have arrived at it to express the same blessed truth? Christ is indeed “the first begotten of the dead,” notwithstanding that such raisings from the grave as that of the widow’s son 25and Lazarus went before. There was for them no repeal of the sentence of death, but a respite only; not to say that even during their period of respite they carried about with them a body of death. Christ first so rose from the dead, that He did not, and could not, die any more (Rom. vi. 9); in this respect was “the first-fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. xv. 20, 23), the Prince of life (Acts iii. 15). Alcuin: “Primogenitus ideo dicitur quia nullus ante Ipsum non moriturus surrexit.” In this “first begotten” (or “first born from the dead,” as it is Col. i. 18), I do not see the image of the grave as the womb that bare him (λύσας τὰς ὠδῖνας τοῦ θανάτου, Acts ii. 24); but remembering how often τίκτειν = γεννᾶν, I should rather put this passage in connection with Ps. ii. 7, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten Thee.” It will doubtless be remembered that St. Paul (Acts xiii. 33; cf. Heb. i. 5) claims the fulfilment of these words not in the eternal generation before all time of the Son; still less in his human conception in the Blessed Virgin’s womb; but rather in his resurrection from the dead; “declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. i. 4). On that verse in Ps. ii., and with reference to Acts xiii. 32, Hilary, the depth and distinctly theological value of whose exposition seems to me at this day very imperfectly recognised, has these 26words: “Filius meus es Tu, Ego hodie genui Te; non ad Virginis partum, neque ad eam quæ ante tempora est generationem, sed ad primogenitum ex mortuis pertinere apostolica auctoritas est.” To Him first, to Him above all others, God said on that day when He raised Him from the dead, and gave Him glory, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee.”
“And the Prince of the kings of the earth.”—A manifest reference to Ps. ii. 2, where the “kings of the earth” (compare Rev. vi. 15, for the same phrase used in the same sense), appear in open rebellion against the Christ of God; cf. Acts iv. 26; Ps. cx. 5; lxxxix. 27; Isai. lii. 15; Matt. xxviii. 18. Such a “Prince of the kings of the earth” He becomes in the exaltation which follows on and is most closely connected with his humiliation (Phil. ii. 9; Ps. lxxxix. 27); and shows Himself such at his glorious coming, as set forth in the later parts of this Book, “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (xvii. 14; xix, 16), breaking in pieces all of those “kings of the earth” who set themselves in battle array against Him, receiving the homage of all who are wise in time (Ps. ii. 10-12), and bring their glory and honour to lay them at his feet, and to receive them back at his hands (Rev. xxi. 24).
“Unto Him that hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”—The words are 27richer still in comfort, when we read, as we ought, ἀγαπῶντι, and not ἀγαπήσαντι: “Unto Him that loves us,” whose love rests evermore on his redeemed. There is in the Greek theology an old and often-recurring play on the words λύτρον and λουτρόν, words so nearly allied in sound, and both expressing so well, though under images entirely diverse, the central benefits which redound to us through the sacrifice of the death of Christ. It is indeed older than this, and is implicitly involved in the etymology of Apollo, which Plato, whether in jest or in earnest, puts into the mouth of Socrates’ Cratylus, 405 B.): ὁ ἀπολούων τε καὶ ἀπολύων τῶν κακῶν, these κακά being impurities of the body and of the soul. This near resemblance between λύειν and λούειν has given rise to a very interesting variety of readings here. Whichever reading we adopt, λύσαντι or λούσαντι, “who released us,” or “who washed us,” the words yield a beautiful meaning, as in either case they link themselves on to a whole circle of imagery already hallowed and consecrated by Scripture use. If we adopt λύσαντι, the passage then connects itself with all those which speak of Christ having given Himself as a λύτρον (Matt. xx. 28), as an ἀντίλυτρον for us (1 Tim. ii. 6; cf. 1 Pet. i. 18; Heb. ix. 12); as redeeming or purchasing us (Gal. iii. 13; iv. 5; Rev. v. 9; xiv. 3, 4); and somewhat more remotely with28as many as describe the condition of sin as a condition of bondage, and Christ as having obtained freedom for us. If on the other hand we read λούσαντι, then the passage connects itself with such others as Ps. li. 4; Isai. i. 16, 18; Ezek. xxxvi. 25; Rev. vii. 14; as Acts xxii. 16; Ephes. v. 26; Tit. iii. 5; so, too, with all those which describe the καθαρισμός, the καθαρίζειν, as the end of Christ’s death (1 John i. 7); and somewhat more remotely with as many as under types of the Levitical law set forth the benefits of this heavenly washing (Num. xix. 17-21). The weight of external evidence is so nearly balanced that it is very difficult to say on which side it predominates. For λούσαντι, the reading of the received text, adopted by our Translators, there is B, the Vulgate (“et lavit nos”), Bengel, Tischendorf, Tregelles; for λύσαντι, A, C, and among critical editions, Mill and Lachmann. But the internal evidence I confess appears to ime very much in favour of retaining the reading of the received text, the poetic λούσαντι so agreeable to the poetic character of this Book, rather than the somewhat flat λύσαντι. Then it is quite true that redemption may be contemplated as a λούειν ἐν τῷ αἵματι, but by how much better right, and with how much livelier imagery as a λούειν ἐν τῷ αἵματι, and certainly Rev. vii. 14 points strongly this way.
Ver. 6. “And hath made us kings and priests 29unto God and his Father.”—Or rather, and according to the reading which must be preferred, “And hath made us a kingdom [ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς βασιλείαν], priests unto God and his Father” (“Et fecit nos regnum, et sacerdotes Deo,” Vulgate). There is a certain apparent inconcinnity in the abstract βασιλείαν joined with the concrete ἱερεῖς, but there can be no question about the reading, and the meaning remains exactly the same; except, indeed, that instead of the emphasis being equally distributed between the two words, the larger portion of it now falls on the first; and this agrees with the prominence given to the reigning of the saints in this Book (v. 10; xx. 4, 6; xxii. 5: cf. Dan. vii. 18, 22).—The royal priesthood of the redeemed (see Exod. xix. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 9) flows out of the royal priesthood of the Redeemer, a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. cx. 4; Zech. vi. 13). That the whole number of the redeemed shall in the world of glory have been made “priests unto God” is the analogon as regards persons to the new Jerusalem being without temple, in other words, being all temple, which is declared further on (xxi. 22); it is the abolition of the distinction between holy and profane (Zech. xiv. 20, 21) nearer and more remote from God, through all being henceforth holy, all being brought to the nearest whereof it is capable, to Him.30
“To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”—Cf. 1 Pet. iv. 11. A fuller doxology, being threefold, occurs iv. 9, 11; and a fuller yet, being fourfold, at v. 13; cf. Jude 25; and the fullest of all, the sevenfold doxology, at vii. 12; cf. 1 Chron. xxix. 11. A study of these, and a comparison of them with one another, would amply repay the pains bestowed upon it; above all, if it served to remind us of the prominence which the doxological element assumes in the highest worship of the Church, the very subordinate place which it oftentimes takes in ours. We can perhaps make our requests known unto God; and this is well, for it is prayer; but to give glory to God, quite apart from anything to be directly gotten by ourselves in return, this is better, for it is adoration; but it is rarer also, no less than better.
Ver. 7. “Behold, He cometh with clouds.”—The constant recurrence of this language in all descriptions of our Lord’s second advent is very remarkable (Dan. vii. 13; Matt. xxiv. 30; xxvi. 64; Mark xiv. 62), and all the meaning of it will scarcely be attained till that great day of the Lord shall have itself arrived. This much seems certain, namely, that this accompaniment of clouds (it is μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν) belongs not to the glory and gladness, but to the terror and anguish, of that day; as indeed the context of the present passage 31would indicate. The clouds have nothing in common with the light-cloud, the νεφέλη φωτεινή (Matt. xvii. 5), “the glorious privacy of light” into which the Lord was withdrawn for a while from the eyes of his disciples at the Transfiguration, but are rather the symbols of wrath, fit accompaniments of judgment: “Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne” (Ps. xcvii. 2; cf. xviii. 11; Nah. i. 3; Isai. xix. 1).
“And every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.”—It will sometimes happen that a prophecy, severe in the Old Testament, by some gracious turn will be transformed from a threat to a promise in the New; thus, the “day of visitation” of St. Peter (1 Ep. ii. 12) is another from the “day of visitation” of the prophets,—that to be hoped for, this to be feared. But it is not so here. There is indeed a turn, yet not from the severe to the gracious, but the contrary. The words of the prophet Zechariah (xii. 10), on which this passage and John xix. 37 in common rest, are words of grace: “They shall look upon Me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him.” They express the profound repentance of the Jews, when the veil shall be at length taken from their hearts, and they shall behold 32in Jesus of Nazareth, whom they crucified, the Son of God, the King of Israel. But it cannot be denied that in their adaptation here they speak quite another language. They set forth the despair of the sinful world, of all the tribes of the earth (cf. Matt. xxiv. 30), when Christ the Judge shall come to execute judgment on all that obeyed not his gospel, who pierced Him with their sins; their remorse and despair, but give no hint of their repentance. The closing words, “Even so, Amen,” are not to be taken as the prophet’s devout acquiescence in the terribleness of that judgment-day,—a comparison with xxii. 20 might easily lead an English reader into this misunderstanding of them,—but as God’s own seal and ratification of his own word.
Ver. 8. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord.”—Cf. xxi. 6, where the words “the beginning and the ending” have a right to a place in the text; but not here; having been transferred from thence, without any authority at all. He who is “Alpha and Omega” (or better, “Alpha and Ω”), and thus indeed “the beginning and the ending,” and “the first and the last” (i. 17; ii. 8), leaves no room for any other; is indeed the only I AM; and beside Him there is no God. Thus Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iv. 25): κύκλος γὰρ ὁ Υἱὸς πασῶν τῶν δυνάμεων εἰς ἓν 33εἰλουμένων καὶ ἑνουμένων· διὰ τοῦτο Ἄλφα καὶ Ω εἄρηται· and Tertullian, bringing out the unity of the Old and New Testaments, and the manner in which the glorious consummations of the latter attach themselves to the glorious commencements of the former (De Monog. v.): “Sic et duas Græciæ litteras summam et ultimam sibi induit Dominus, initii et finis concurrentium in se figuras; uti quemadmodum α ad ω usque volvitur, et rursus ω ad α explicatur, ita ostenderet in se esse et initii decursum ad finem, et finis recursum ad initium; ut omnis dispositio in Eum desinens, per quem cœ pta est, per Sermonem scilicet Dei qui caro factus est, proinde desit quemadmodum et cœ pit.”
“Which is and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”—Cf. ver. 4. Παντοκράτωρ, which only occurs once in the New Testament (2 Cor. vi. 18) except in this Book, is a constant word in the Septuagint. “The Lord of Hosts” of the Hebrew is there sometimes κύριος δυνάμεων, or στρατιῶν, or σαβαώθ but oftener, I think, κύριος παντοκράτωρ, as at Jer. iii. 19; Amos iii. 13; Hab. ii. 13. It is clear that the Old Testament uses of παντοκράτωρ, so very distinctly fixed as they are, must quite overrule and determine the New Testament employment of it; and thus the ingenious speculations of Gregory of Nyssa, and other Greek Fathers (see Suicer, s. v.), in which they seek a 34special meaning for it, and find it to express of God, that He holds all creation in his grasp, preserving it from that ruin and collapse which would at once overtake it, if not evermore sustained by his creative Word, prove nothing worth. This, grand an attribute as it is of the Godhead (Heb. i. 3), is assuredly not that which specially lies in παντοκράτωρ, for it is not that which it brought from the earlier Covenant.
Ver. 9. “I John, who also am your brother.”—The only other writer either in the Old Testament or the New who uses this style is Daniel—“I Daniel” (vii. 28; ix. 2; x. 2). It is one of the many points of resemblance, small and great, between this Book and that of Daniel. The καὶ, represented by “also” in our Version, and modifying this whole clause, should have no place in the text. It may have been suggested by 1 Pet. v. 1; and was probably inserted by some who esteemed ὁ ἀδελφὸς ὑμῶν too humble a title for one of the great pillars of the Church; and by that καὶ would make him to say, “who, being an Apostle, am also a brother.”
“And companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.”—It has been sometimes asked, When was that prophecy and promise fulfilled concerning John, that he should drink of his Lord’s cup, and be baptized with his Lord’s baptism (Matt. xx. 22)? The fulfilment 35of this promise and prophecy as it regarded his brother James is plain; when the sword of Herod was dyed with his blood (Acts xii. 2). It was answered rightly by Origen long ago (In Matt. tom. xvi. § 6, in fine), Here—in this his banishment to Patmos; not thereby denying that there must have been a life-long θλῖψις for such an one as the Apostle John, but only affirming that the words found their most emphatic fulfilment now. Let us not fail to observe the connexion and the sequence—“tribulation” first, and “the kingdom” afterwards; on which Richard of St. Victor well: “Recte præmisit, in tribulatione, et post addit, in regno, quia si compatimur, et corregnabimus” (2 Tim. ii. 12; cf. Rom. viii. 17; 1 Pet. iv. 13). As yet, however, while the tribulation is present, the kingdom is only in hope; therefore he adds to these, as that which is the link between them, “and patience of Jesus Christ;” cf. Acts xiv. 22, where exactly these same three, the tribulation, the patience, and the kingdom occur. Ὑπομονή, which we have rendered “patience,” is not so much the “patientia” as the “perseverentia” of the Latin; which last word Cicero (De Invent. ii. 54) thus defines: “In ratione bene consideratâ stabilis et perpetua mansio;” and Augustine (Quæst. lxxxiii. qu. 31): “Honestatis aut utilitatis causâ rerum arduarum ac difficilium voluntaria ac diuturna perpessio.” 36It is indeed a beautiful word, expressing the brave patience of the Christian—βασιλὶς τῶν ἀρετῶν, Chrysostom does not fear to call it.
“I was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”—Patmos, now Patmo or Palmosa, one of the Sporades, a little rocky island in the Icarian Sea, S.-W. of Ephesus, a spot in itself utterly insignificant, would have remained unknown and almost unnamed, if this mention here had not given to it a name and a fame in the Church for ever. This its entire previous insignificance is slightly, yet unmistakably, indicated in the words “that is called Patmos.” St. John does not assume his readers to be familiar with it, any more than St. Mark, writing for those living at a distance from Palestine, with the Jordan (cf. Mark i. 5 with Matt. iii. 5). It is not so that a well-known island, Crete or Cyprus, is introduced (Acts xiii. 4). The deportation of criminals, or those accounted as such, to rocky and desolate islands was, as is well known, a common punishment among the Romans. Titus, according to Suetonius, banished some delators “in asperrimas insularum” (Tit. 8; cf. Juvenal, i. 73).
The unprejudiced reader will hardly be persuaded that St. John sets himself forth here as any other than such a constrained dweller in Patmos, one who had been banished thither “for the word 37of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Those modern interpreters who find in these words no reference to any such suffering for the truth’s sake, but only a statement on the writer’s part that he was in the isle of Patmos for the sake of preaching the Word of God, or, as others, for the sake of receiving a communication of the Word of God, refuse the obvious meaning of the words, which moreover a comparison with vi. 9; xx. 4, seems to me to render imperative, for one which, if it also may possibly lie in them, has nothing but this bare possibility in its favour. It is difficult not to think that these interpreters have been unconsciously influenced by a desire to get rid of the strong testimony for St. John’s authorship of the Book which lies in the consent of this declaration with that which early ecclesiastical history tells us about him, namely, that for his steadfastness in the faith of Christ he was by Domitian banished to Patmos, and only released at the accession of Nerva. The Apocalypse, it is worth observing by the way, has all internal evidence of having been thus written in time of persecution and by a confessor of the truth. The whole Book breathes the very air of martyrdom. Oftentimes slighted by the Church in times of prosperity, it is made much of, and its preciousness, as it were, instinctively discovered, in times of adversity and fiery trial. This Bengel has well 38observed:—“In tribulatione fidelibus maxime hic liber sapit. Asiatica Ecclesia, præsertim a floridissimo Constantini tempore, minus magni æstimavit hunc librum. Africana Ecclesia, cruci magis obnoxia, semper hunc librum plurimi fecit.” Tertullian may be quoted in proof of this assertion. How often does he seek, now to strengthen the faithful with the promises, and now to terrify the fearful with the threatenings, of this Book (Scorp. 12; De Cor. 15); and compare Cyprian, De Exhort. Mart. passim.
Ver. 10. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”—In one sense the faithful are always “in the Spirit;” they are “spiritual” (1 Cor. iii. 1, 15); are “led by the Spirit” (Rom. viii. 14); “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. v. 16, 25). But here, and at iv. 2; xxi. 10 (cf. Ezek. xl. 2, “in the visions of God”), the words are used in an eminent and peculiar sense; they describe not the habitual condition of faithful men, but an exceptional condition, differing from the other not in degree only, but in kind; a condition in which there is a suspension of all the motions and faculties of the natural life; that a higher life may be called, during and through this suspension, into a preternatural activity. It is the state of trance or ecstasy, that is, of standing out of oneself (θεία ἐξαλλαγὴ τῶν εἰωθότων νομίμων Plato calls it, Phædrus, 265 A, 39and on its positive side, ἐνθουσιασμός, so often described in Scripture as the condition of men to whom God would speak more directly (Acts x. 10; cf. xi. 5; xxii. 17); the antithesis to it, or the return out of it, being a γενόμενος ἐν ἑαυτῷ (Acts xii. 11); ἐν τῷ νοΐ (1 Cor. xiv. 14).33 Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. ciii. 11): “Illo orante [Acts x. 10] facta est illi mentis alienatio, quam Græci ecstasin dicunt; id est, aversa est mens ejus a consuetudine corporali ad visum quendam contemplandum, alienata a præsentibus.” Cf. in Ps. lxvii. 28; Quæst. in Gen. 1. 1, qu. 80; and De Div. Quæst. 1. 2, qu. 1: “Mentis alienatio a sensibus corporis, ut spiritus hominis divino Spiritu assumptus capiendis atque intuendis imaginibus vacet.” St. Paul exactly describes the experience of one who has passed through this state, 2 Cor. xii. 2-4. That world of spiritual realities is one from which man is comparatively estranged so long as he dwells in this house of clay; he has need to be transported out of himself, before he can find himself in the midst of and come into direct contact with it. Here we have the explanation of the fact that the Lord never was “in the Spirit,” namely, because He was always “in the Spirit,” because He always moved in that region as his proper haunt and home.
Separated in body from the fellowship of the faithful, the beloved Apostle was yet keeping with them the weekly feast of the resurrection on the day which the Lord had made for ever peculiarly 40his own. It was, as he is careful to declare to us, “on the Lord’s Day,” which occupied for the Church the place occupied by the Sabbath for the Jews, that he thus passed out of himself, and was drawn within the veil, and heard unspeakable words, and beheld things which, unless they had been shown by God, must have remained for ever hidden from mortal gaze; Some have assumed from this passage that ἡμέρα κυριακή was a designation of Sunday already familiar among Christians. This, however, seems a mistake. The name had probably its origin here. A little later we find ἡμέρα κυριακή familiar to Ignatius, as “Dominica solemnia” to Tertullian (De Animâ, c. 9; cf. Dionysius of Corinth, quoted by Eusebins, II. E. iv. 23, 8; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. vii. 12; Origen, Con. Cels. viii. 22). But though the name, “the Lord’s Day,” will very probably have had here its rise (the actual form of the phrase may have been suggested by κυριακὸν δεῖπνον, 1 Cor. xi. 20),—the thing, the celebration of the first day of the week as that on which the Lord brake the bands of death, and became the head of a new creation, called therefore sometimes ἀναστάσιιμος ἡμέρα, this was as old as Christianity itself (John xx. 24-29; 1 Cor. xvi. 2; Acts xx. 7; Ep. of Barnabas, c. 15: ἄγομεν τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν ὀγδόην εἰς εὐφροσύνην: cf. Suicer, s. v. κυριακή). The strange 41fancy of some that ἡμέρα κυρ]ακή means here “the day of the Lord,” in the sense of “the day of judgment,” intended as it is to subserve a scheme of Apocalyptic interpretation which certainly needs ally support which it can any where find, has been abundantly refuted by Alford.
“And I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.”—The wondrous vision which the Seer shall behold does not break upon him all at once; he first hears behind him “a voice, great as of a trumpet,” summoning his attention, and preparing him for the still greater sight which he shall see. It is a “great voice,” as the voice of the Lord must ever be (Ps. xxix. 3-9; lxviii. 33; Dan. x. 6; Matt. xxiv. 31; 1 Thess. iv. 16); a voice penetrating and clear, “as of a trumpet;” in which comparison there may be allusion, as Hengstenberg is sure there is, to the divinely-instituted rule of calling together by a trumpet the congregation of the Lord, when He had any thing to impart to them (Num. x. 2; Exod. xix. 16, 19; Joel ii. 1, 15; Matt. xxiv. 31; 1 Thess. iv. 16); although this to me does not seem very probable.
“Saying, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven Churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”—The words, 42“I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,” which in our Version follow immediately after “Saying,” have no right whatever to stand in the text. It is disputed whether the “book” which St. John is to write, and having written, to send to the seven Churches, is this whole Book of the Apocalypse, or only the seven shorter Epistles contained in chapters ii. and iii. Hengstenberg affirms the last; but against the great body of interpreters, and, as I am persuaded, wrongly. “What thou seest” must in that case be restrained to ver. 12-16 of this present chapter. All the rest, to the end of chap. iii., he will have heard; but-will have seen nothing; and moreover ver. 19 is decisive that what he is to write of is more than that which he has then seen: “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.”
Doubtless it is not for nothing that seven Churches, neither more nor less, are here named. The reason of this lies deeper than some suggest, who will have these seven to include all the principal Churches of Asia; whatever others there were being merely annexed to these. But taking into account the rapid spread of the Gospel in the regions of Asia Minor as recorded in Scripture (Acts xix. 9; 1 Cor. xvi. 9), and in other historical documents of a date very little later, we cannot 43doubt that toward the end of the life of St. John there were flourishing and important Churches in many other cities of that region besides these seven; that if the first purpose of the great ascended Bishop of the Church had been to bring under spiritual review the whole Church of Asia, in this case Colosse, to which St. Paul addressed an Epistle, and Hierapolis, where was already the nucleus of a Church in the Apostle’s time (Col. iv. 13), and where a little later Papias was bishop, and Miletus, the scene of apostolic labours (Acts xx. 17), and Tralles, called by Cicero “gravis, ornata et locuples civitas,” to the Church in which city Ignatius wrote an epistle some twenty years later, as he did to that in Magnesia as well, these with others would scarcely have been passed by.44 There is an instructive chapter in Tacitus (Annal. iv. 55), throwing much light on the relative dignity and position, at a period a little earlier than this, of the chief cities in proconsular Asia. He is describing a contention which found place among eleven of them, which should have the honour of erecting a statue and temple to Tiberius. Among the eleven contending for this glorious privilege, which involved as well the maintaining as the founding of this cult, five out of our seven appear. Two, namely Philadelphia and Thyatira, do not enter the lists. Laodicea, with others not included in this seven, is set aside, as unequal in wealth and dignity to the task; Pergamum as having already a temple to Augustus, Ephesus as devoted to Diana, and others for various causes; till at length Smyrna and Sardis are the only competitors which remain. Of these the former is preferred, mainly on account of its greater devotedness in times past to the interests of the Roman State, when as yet the fortunes of Rome were not so completely in the ascendant as they were then. But what we may call the mystical 44or symbolic interest overhears and predominates over the actual. No doubt this actual was sufficiently provided for in another way, and these seven words of warning and encouragement so penetrated to the heart of things that, meeting the needs of these seven Churches, they also met the needs of all others subsisting in similar, or nearly similar conditions. Typical and representative Churches, these embodied, one or another of them, I will not say all the great leading aspects of the Church in its faithfulness or its unfaithfulness; but they embodied a great many, the broadest and the oftenest recurring.55 Grotius: “Sub earum nomine tacite comprehendit et alias Ecclesias, quia earum status et qualitates ad septem quasi genera possunt revocari, quorum exemplum præbent illæ Asiatiæ.” The seven must in this point of view be regarded as constituting a complex whole, as possessing an ideal completeness. Christ, we feel sure, could not have placed Himself in the relation which He does to them, as holding in his hand the seven stars, walking among the seven golden candlesticks, these stars being the Angels of the Churches, and the candlesticks the Churches themselves, unless they ideally represented and set forth, in some way or other, the universal Church, militant here upon earth.45
But this, which I have here rather assumed than proved, together with another question, namely, whether besides possessing this typical and representative character, these seven Epistles are not also historico-prophetical, do not unfold the future of the Church’s fortunes to the end of time, seven successive stages and periods of its growth and history, has been so eagerly discussed, has, strangely enough, roused so much theological passion, that I am unwilling to treat the subject with the brevity which a place in this exposition would require. I must therefore refer the reader to al Excursus at the end of the volume, in which I have traced, rapidly indeed, but with some attempt at completeness, a sketch of the controversy, and have stated, and sought to justify, the conclusions on the points in debate at which I have myself arrived.
“And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks.” Λυχνία is a word condemned by the Greek purists, who prefer λύχνιον (Lobeck, Phrynichus, p. 313). The “seven candlesticks”—the rendering is not a very happy one, though it is not very plain how it should be bettered—send us back, and are intended to send us back, to the seven-branched candlestick, or candelabrum, which bears ever the same name of λυχνία in the Septuagint (Exod. xxv. 31; cf. Heb. ix. 2; Philo, Quis Rer. Div. Hær. 4644; Josephus, B. J. v. 5. 5); the six arms of which with the central shaft (καλαμίσκοι, Exod. xxv. 31; κλάδοι, Philo, Vit. Mos. iii. 9), made up the mystical seven, each with its several lamp (λύχνος, Zech. iv. 2). Nor is this the first occasion when that portion of the furniture of the tabernacle has had a higher mystical meaning ascribed to it. Already in the candlestick all of gold, which Zechariah saw (iv. 2), there was an anticipation of this image; being one of the many remarkable points of contact between his prophecies and the Apocalypse. Here, however, it is not one candlestick with seven branches which St. John beholds; but rather seven separate candlesticks. Nor is it without a meaning that the seven thus take the place of the one. The Jewish Church was one; for it was the Church of a single people; the Christian Church, that too is one, but it is also many; at once the “Church” and the “Churches.” These may be quite independent of one another, the only bond of union with one another which they absolutely require being that of common dependence on the same Head, and derivation of life from the same Spirit; and are fitly represented by seven, the number of mystical completeness.
In the image itself by which the Churches are symbolized there is an eminent fitness. The candlestick, or lampstand, as we must rather conceive 47it here, is not light, but it is the bearer of light, that which diffuses it, that which holds it forth and causes it to shine throughout the house; being the appointed instrument for this. It is thus with the Church. God’s word, God’s truth, including in this all which He has declared of Himself in revealed religion, is light (Ps. cxix. 105; Prov. vi. 23); the Church is the light-bearer, light in the Lord (Ephes. v. 8), not having light of its own, but diffusing that which it receives of Him. Each too of the faithful in particular, after he has been illuminated (Heb. vi. 4), is a bearer of the light; “ye are the light of the world” (Matt. v. 14-16); “lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Phil. ii. 15). In accordance with this view of the matter, in the Levitical tabernacle the seven-branched candlestick stood in the Holy Place (Exod. xxvi. 35; xl. 4), which was the pattern of the Church upon earth, as the Holy of Holies was the pattern of the Church in heaven; and the only light which the Holy Place received was derived from that candlestick; the light of common day being quite excluded from it, in sign that the Lord God was the light thereof, that the light of the Church is the light of nature, but of grace.
These candlesticks are of gold (cf. Exod. xxv. 31; Zech. iv. 2), as so much else in this Book; “the golden girdle” (i. 13); “golden crowns” 48(iv. 4); “golden vials” (v. 8); “golden censer” (viii. 3); “golden altar” (ibid.); “golden reed” (xxi. 15); “the city of pure gold” (xxi. 18); “the street of the city of pure gold” (xxi. 21). No doubt the preciousness of all belonging to the Church of God is indicated- by the predominant employment of this the costliest and most perfect metal of all. A hint no doubt we have here of this, exactly as in the Ark and furniture of the Ark so much in like manner is of pure gold, the mercy-seat, the cherubim, the dishes, spoons, covers, tongs, snuff-dishes (Exod. xxv. 17, 18, 29, 38), the pot which had manna (Exod. xvi. 33),66 This was a golden pot, as we learn from Heb. ix. 4; cf. LXX in loc., and Philo, Cong. Erud. Gent. § 18. every thing in short which did not by its bulk and consequent weight absolutely preclude this, and even that was for the most part overlaid with gold (Exod. xxv. 10, 11, 23, 24).77 Cocceius: “Aurum in figuris et symbolicis locutionibus significat id quod est omnium optimum, quod omnia perficit, et a nullo perficitur; sed in se est perfectissimum et purissimum, nullique mutationi obnoxium; quemadmodum aurum omnium metallorum perfectissimum est, et ab alliis non perficitur; sed quibus accedit ea perficit, et nec temporis, nec ignis, omnium destructoris violentiam injuriamque sentit.” But the mere costliness of gold, that it was of all metals the rarest, and therefore the dearest, this was not the only motive for the predominant employment of it. Throughout all the 49ancient East there was a sense of sacredness attached to this metal, which still to a great extent survives. Thus “golden” in the Zend-Avesta is throughout synonymous with heavenly or divine. So also in many Eastern lands while silver might be degraded to profane and every-day uses of common life, might as money pass from hand to hand, “the pale and common drudge ’twixt man and man,” it was not permitted to employ gold in any services except only royal and divine (see Bähr, Symbolik, vol. i. pp. 273, 282, 292).
Ver. 13. “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man.”—Some translate “like unto a son of man,” that is to say, “like unto a man,” the words merely for them expressing that He who was seen was in human shape, and, so far as the appearance warranted the conclusion, the sharer of a human nature (Ezek. xxxvii. 3, 16; xxxix. 1). The absence of the articles, however, does not require this either here or at xiv. 14; any more than υἱὸς Θεοῦ (Matt. xxvii. 54) demands to be translated “a son of God,” or πνεῦμα Θεοῦ, “a Spirit of God.” The beloved Apostle by this “like unto the Son of man” would express his recognition in this sublime appearance of Him whom he had once known on earth, the born of the Virgin Mary; and who even then had claimed to be executor 50of all judgment, because He was the Son of man (John v. 27).
“Clothed with a garment down to the foot.”—We are again reminded of Daniel’s vision, where in like manner He whom the prophet saw was “clothed in linen” (x. 5), or, as it would be more rightly translated, “in a long linen garment.” Ποδήρης, the “poderis” of ecclesiastical Latin, is properly an adjective here, with χίτων understood; cf. Wisd. xviii. 24: ποδῆρες ἔνδυμα, and Xenophon, Cyrop. vi. 2, 10: ἄσπις ποδήρης, a shield reaching down to the feet, such as the θυρεός (Ephes. vi. 16), and covering the whole person. The long robe is every where in the East the garment of dignity and honour (Gen. xxxvii. 3; Mark xiii. 38; Luke xv. 22)—the association of dignity with it probably resting originally on the absence of the necessity of labour; and thus of loins girt up, which it implied: see, on the other hand, 2 Sam. x. 4. The word nowhere else occurs in the New Testament, but several times in the Old; and designates there sometimes the long linen garment common to all the priests, the chetoneth, “the holy linen coat” (Lev. xvi. 4; Exod. xxxix. 27), sometimes the High Priest’s “robe of the ephod” (Exod. xxviii. 31; Zech. iii. 4; Wisd. xviii. 24); στολὴ δόξης, as it is called, Ecclus. xlviii. 7. Yet these passages must not lead us, as they have led some, to regard this 51as a manifestation of Christ in his priestly character alone. The Rheims version indeed renders ποδήρης here “a priestly garment,” but with no warrant for so doing. Any stately garment, any “vestis talaris,” may be indicated by the word (Ecclus. xxvii. 8), as for instance, that worn by the Angel of the covenant (Ezek. ix. 2, 3). So too in Isaiah’s magnificent vision (vi. 1), He was clothed with a ποδήρης, though the word does not there occur, whom the prophet beheld sitting as a King upon his throne, and whose train filled the temple. The ποδήρης, in fact, is quite as much a kingly garment as a priestly, even as Christ presents Himself here not only as the Priest, but the King, and, so far as there is any predominance, more the King than the Priest, ruling in the midst of his’ Church.
“And girt about the paps with a golden girdle.”—So we read of the Angels “having their breasts girded with golden girdles” (xv. 6); cf. Ovid: “cinctæque ad pectora vestes.” The ordinary girding for one actively engaged was at the loins (1 Kings ii. 5; xviii. 46; Jer. xiii. 11; cf. Luke xii. 35; Eph. vi. 14; 1 Pet. i. 13); but Josephus (Antt. iii. 7, 2) expressly tells us that the Levitical priests were girt higher up, about the breast, or as it is here, “about the paps” (ἐπιζώννυνται κατὰ στῆθος)—favouring, as this higher cincture did, a calmer, more majestic movement (see Braun, De 52Vest. Hebr. p. 402). The girdle, knitting up as it would do into a compact unity all the scattered forces of a man, is often contemplated as the symbol of strength and power (Isai. xxii. 21; Job xii. 18); and as nothing is so strong as righteousness and truth, therefore the prophet foretells of Messiah, “Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins” (Isai. xi. 5; cf. Ephes. vi. 14). The girdle here is “golden;” not merely with a golden clasp or buckle, as Hengstenberg, relying on 1 Macc. x. 89; xi. 58; xiv. 44, where such appears as the ensign of royalty, would have it; but all of gold; cf. xv. 7; and Dan. x. 5: “His loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz.” It is quite true that the curious girdle of the High Priest was not golden, but only wrought and interwoven with gold (Exod. xxviii. 8; xxxix. 5); but this with other departures in the present appearance of the Lord from the investiture of the High Priest only goes to confirm what was just asserted, namely, that we have to do with Him here not as the Priest only, but as also the King in his Church; for it is in this direction that all the variations tend.
Ver. 14. “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.”—Cf. Dan. vii. 9: “The hair of his head was like the pure wool;” wool and snow being joined together on the score 53of their common whiteness both there and at Isai. i. 18. I must needs consider those interpreters as here altogether at fault who see in this whiteness of the Lord’s hairs the symbol of age, the hoary head as of the Ancient of Days, which should inspire honour and respect. Augustine himself has not escaped this error (Exp. ad Gal. iv. 21): “Dominus non nisi ob antiquitatem veritatis in Apocalypsi albo capite apparuit;” and Vitringa gives a reference to Lev. xix. 32. That it is an error a moment’s reflection will convince. The white hairs of old age are at once the sign and the consequence of the decay of natural strength, in other words, of death commencing; the hair blanching because the blood refuses to circulate any longer in these extremities, as it will one day refuse to circulate in any part of the frame. Being then this, how can the white hairs, the hoary head which is the sign of weakness, decay, and the approach of death, be ascribed to Him who, as He is from everlasting, so also is He to everlasting? Even the Angel at the sepulchre is a νεανισκός, “a young man” (Mark xvi. 5; cf. Zech. ii. 4); what then the Angel’s Lord (cf. 2 Esdr. ii. 43, 47)?
“And his eyes were as a flame of fire.”—Cf. Dan. x. 6: “His eyes [were] as lamps of fire.” This too has been understood by some, of the clear-sightedness of Christ, that all things are open and 54manifest to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Thus Vitringa: “Significant perspicaciam divinæ et puræ mentis omnia arcana pervadentis;” but Cocceius much better: “Significat hoc iram ἀπαραίτητον in adversarios.” The other explanation is insufficient. “His eyes were as a flame of fire,” does not say merely that He knows what is in man, that nothing can escape his searching penetrative glance; it expresses much more than this—the indignation of the Holy One at the discoveries of evil which He thus makes. These “eyes of fire,” do not merely look through the hypocrite and the sinner, but consume him, him and his sins together, unless indeed he will suffer them to consume his sins, that so he may live. For indeed in the symbolism of Scripture, fire is throughout the expression of the divine anger; and seeing that nothing moves that anger but sin, of the divine anger against sin (Gen. xix. 24; Lev. x. 2; Num. xi. 1; xvi. 35; Ps. 1. 3; xcvii. 3; 2 Kings i. 10, 12; Ezek. xxxviii. 22; xxxix. 6; Dan. vii. 9, 10; Luke ix. 54; 2 Thess. i. 8; Heb. x. 27; Jude 7; Rev. xx. 9). It need hardly be observed, as confirming this interpretation, that the eyes flashing fire are evermore the utterance, the outward tokens of indignation and wrath; thus Homer (Il. xiii. 474): ὀφθαλμὼ δ᾽ ἄρα οϙ πυρὶ λάμπετον: cf. Virgil, Æn. xii. 101, 102. If any hesitation existed in 55ascribing this meaning to the symbol here, it must be removed by a comparison with xix. 11, 12. The whole imagery there is of Christ as a man of war coming forth in his anger to make war upon his enemies, and the “eyes as a flame of fire” are again ascribed to Him there.
Ver. 15. “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.”—The ποδήρης, as the name sufficiently indicates, must have reached to the feet, but permitted them to be seen. They were no doubt bare; as were the feet of the Levitical priesthood ministering in the sanctuary. We are no where indeed expressly told of these that they ministered barefoot, but every thing leads us to this conclusion. Thus while all the other parts of the priestly investiture are described with the greatest minuteness, and Moses accurately instructed how they should be made, there is no mention of any covering for the feet. Then again the analogy of such passages as Exod. iii. 5; Josh. v. 15, and the fact that the moral idea of the shoe is that of a defence against the defilements of the earth, of which defilements there could be none in the Holy Place, all this irresistibly points this way. Plutarch’s testimony to the contrary (Symp. iv. 6, 2), who ascribes, to the High Priest at least, buskins (κοθόρνους,), cannot be regarded as of the slightest weight on the other side. Uncovered at 56all events the feet on the present occasion were; for St. John compares them to χαλκολίβανος—there is no reason why we should assume a neuter, χαλκολίβανον, as the nominative, which has very commonly been done—a word which we have translated “fine brass.” It occurs only here and at ii. 18; being, in all probability, of St. John’s own composition; and has much perplexed, we may say has hitherto defied, interpreters to give any satisfactory explanation of it—to do more than guess at its etymology and its meaning.
It has been suggested, and the suggestion is as old as Arethas,—it is indeed older, for the Syriac and the Ethiopic versions rest upon it,—that we are to find Λίβανος, or Lebanon, in the latter part of the word, and that χαλκολίβανος means “brass of Mount Lebanon,” such as was there found; or more generally “mountain-brass,” “aurichalcum,” as it is in the Vulgate; in the first syllable of which, as need hardly be observed, we are not to find “aurum,” as though this mixed metal were of gold and brass, and the word designating it a hybrid, partly Latin, partly Greek, but ὄρος, “orichalcum” (Æn. xii. 87) = ὀρείχαλκος. So one quoted by Wolf: “Libanus pro monte quolibet, fortasse quod Libanus dederit ejusmodi genus metalli;” which it has been further sought to prove by putting together the promise to Asher, “Thy 57shoes shall be iron and brass” (Deut. xxxiii. 25), and the fact that Lebanon was within the borders of this tribe. It is hardly fair to urge against this etymology the objection that it violates the law which holds good in Greek composite words, namely, that the more important word should come last, and the merely qualitative first; which indeed holds good quite as much in our own language, in which “brass-mountain” would signify something very different from “mountain-brass.” I say it is hardly fair to urge this, that the word should be rather λιβανόχαλκος than χαλκολίβανος, because the same objection may be urged against every other attempted explanation of the word, including that which seems to me the most probable of all. Another suggestion, first made by Salmasius, has found favour with Ewald, to the effect that this mysterious word is a somewhat euphonic form of χαλκολίβανος, brass of the κλίβανος, or furnace; it is scarcely likely to find favour with others, and is not worthy any serious notice. As little, I confess, does the solution of the riddle of this word, which Wordsworth has allowed and adopted, commend itself to me, namely, that the second part of the word is λίβανος, frankincense, brass of the colour of frankincense, that is, brass of a dark copper hue; for, to say nothing of the extreme unlikelihood of frankincense being sought to 58suggest what the colour was, this part of the description is thus put in direct opposition with all the rest. Every thing else is light, fire, of a white shining brightness; the feet must be so as well.
The explanation which satisfies this, as well as other conditions, and commends itself above any other, is one first proposed by Bochart (in a learned disquisition, De Animal. S. Script. pars ii. c. xvi. p. 883); and since adopted by Grotius, Vitringa, Hengstenberg, and others. Bochart sees in χαλκολίβανος, a hybrid formation, the combination of a Greek word and a Hebrew, χαλκός, and לִבֵּן = “albare,” to make white; brass which in the furnace has attained what we call “white heat.” In this word on a small scale, as in the Apocalypse itself on a larger, the two sacred tongues, Greek and Hebrew, will thus be wonderfully married. If this be the key of the word, it will then exactly correspond to, and the Seer will have intended to express by it, the “burnished brass” of the feet of the four living creatures (Ezek. i. 7; cf. ver. 27 and viii. 2), the “polished brass” of the feet of Him whom Daniel saw on the banks of Hiddekel (Dan. x. 6), neither “burnished” nor “polished” in those passages of our Translation exactly expressing the force of the original; which the LXX by ἐξαστράπτων in the first passage, στίλβων in the second (the Vulgate has well “candens” in both), 59had more precisely seized. If this be correct, the χαλκολίβανος will not be the “fine,” or the “shining,” but the “glowing,” brass. This conclusion is very much strengthened by the epexegesis, “as if they burned in a furnace;” words of explanation immediately added by St. John, as probably knowing the difficulty which his readers would find in this unusual term. A further confirmation we may draw from a comparison with x. 1, where feet as “pillars of fire,” which can only be feet as glowing or burning brass, are ascribed to the mighty Angel, who there appears. This grand and terrible image sets forth to us Christ in his power to tread down his enemies; at once to tread down and to consume them—“ut potentissimum in conculcandis hostibus” (Marckius).
“And his voice as the sound of many waters.”—Hitherto St. John has trodden closely on the footsteps of Daniel in his delineation of Him whom his eyes beheld; but grand as is the imagery which he offers (“the voice of his words [was] like the voice of a multitude,” Dan. x. 6), the Seer of the New Testament, leaving this, draws now his comparison from another quarter, from Ezek. xliii. 2: “his voice was like a noise of many waters;” cf. Ezek. i. 24; Rev. xix. 6; Jer. 1. 42; Isai. xvii. 12. We may note, I think, herein a special characteristic of this wonderful Book. Were it not that the 60term, “a mosaic,” always seems to imply, or to suggest, something artificial, we might in many parts liken the Apocalypse to such a costly mosaic; the precious stones of which, wrought into novel combinations of beauty, have been brought from all the richest mines of the Old Testament and the New.—By this comparison of the voice of the Lord to “the sound of many waters,” is not to be understood the “prædicatio Evangelii” (Vitringa), but the terribleness of the voice with which He will rebuke his foes within the Church and without.
Ver. 16. “And He had in his right hand seven stars.”—Cf. ver. 20; ii. 1; iii. 1. In what fashion we are to conceive the Lord as thus “having in his right hand” these “seven stars,” has been often asked, and variously answered. Is it as so many jewelled rings on the fingers? The threatened rejection of the Laodicean Angel (iii. 16) would then find a remarkable parallel in Jer. xxii. 24: “Though Coniah, king of Judah, were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence.” But, not to mention other objections, the seven stars would ill distribute themselves on five fingers. Better therefore to regard them as a wreath or garland which He held in his right hand. “The mystery of the seven stars” we shall return to before long (ver. 20); and on two occasions 61shall have need to consider what is the spiritual signification of his having or holding these stars in his right hand (ii. 1; iii. 1); all which may therefore for the present be past over.
“And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.”—Ῥομφαία, sometimes ῥομβαία, in Latin ‘rumpia’ (Ennius, Annal. 14 [the passage has not reached us], Valerius Flaccus, vi. 96), is a Thracian word for a Thracian weapon (A. Gellius, x. 25; cf. Diefenbach, Origines Europææ, p. 409). It is properly the long and heavy broadsword (ῥομβαία βαρυσίδηρος, Plutarch,—Æmil. Paul. 18; Livy, xxxi. 39), which the Thracians and other barbarous nations used; and as such to be distinguished from the μάχαιρα, the sacrificial knife, or short stabbing sword. The word, occurring six times in the Apocalypse, only occurs once besides in the New Testament (Luke ii. 35). This sword is “two-edged” here (δίστομος, cf. Heb. iv. 12, μάχαιρα δίστομος = ἀμφίστομος = ἀμφήκης,, Homer, Il. x. 256), the sharpness of it being reckoned as its mouth; cf. Heb. xi. 34, στόματα μαχαίρας, and Judg. iii. 16; Ps. cxlix. 6; Prov. v. 4; Ecclus. xxi. 4. The phrase, “the devouring sword” (2 Sam. xviii. 8; Isai. i. 20; Jer. ii. 30) rests on the same image. Yet it is not a mere Hebraism; but finds its place in classical Greek poetry, and indeed in Greek prose as well; thus Euripides, δίστομα φάσγανα: and elsewhere, 62πέλεκυς δίστομος. As it is from the mouth that man’s word proceeds, so this sword, not wielded in the hand, but proceeding from the mouth of the Son of God, is his Word (compare Isai. xlix. 2: “He hath made my mouth as a sharp sword”); but his Word, as it is also Spirit; “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephes. vi. 17; cf. Heb. iv. 12). They fall short of the full meaning of this emblem, who press mainly as the tertium comparationis here the penetrative searching power of the Word of God, amputating our vices, convincing us of our sins, as Tertullian (Adv. Marc. iii. 14); Cocceius: “Notatur vis verbi in conscientiam;” and Henry More (Mystery of Iniquity, ii. xiv. 6): “A prophetical symbol of that wonderful contrition of heart that the powerful Word of God makes when sincerely and seasonably evibrated against the enemies of his kingdom.” The whole feeling, the whole sense of the passage with which we have here to do, requires that we should take this sword from the mouth as expressing rather the punishing than the convincing power of God’s word. With this sword from his mouth He fights against his enemies and destroys them; compare ii. 12, 16; xix. 15, 21. The Word of the Lord is no empty threat, but having in readiness to avenge all disobedience; cf. Hos. vi. 5; Isai. xi. 4; 2 Thess. ii. 8; Wisd. xviii. 15, 16.—Shall we give any spiritual significance to the two-edgedness of this sword? Many have so done, Tertullian for instance (Adv. Jud.): “Bis acutus duobus Testamentis, legis antiquæ, et legis novæ;” and Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. cxlix. 6; and Richard of St. Victor: “Qui gladius utrâque parte dicitur acutus, quia in Veteri Testamento amputavit vitia carnalia, in Novo etiam spiritualia. Utrâque parte acutus est, quia qui foris in nobis amputat luxuriam carnis, intus resecat malitiam cordis. Utrâque parte acutus est, quia in his qui contemnunt que præcepit, corpus et animam punit. Utrâque parte acutus est, quia malos et a bonis discernit, et singulis quod merentur reddit.”
“And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”—Of the Angel by the vacant tomb it is said, “His countenance was like lightning” (Matt. xxviii. 3; cf. Judg. xiii. 6); here the countenance of the Lord is compared to the sun “in his strength” (cf. x. 1), at his brightest and clearest, in the splendour of his highest noon, no veil, no mist, no cloud obscuring his brightness. When He shall appear, they that are his shall be like Him, for they shall see Him as He is; therefore of them too it can be said that in that day “they shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. xiii. 43; cf. Wisd. iii. 7). No doubt if there had been any thing brighter than the sun, the Seer 64would have chosen it to set forth the transcendant and intolerable brightness of that countenance which he now beheld.
This description of the glorified Lord, which has now been brought to a conclusion, sublime as a purely mental conception, but intolerable, if we were to give it an outward form and expression, and picture Him with this sword proceeding from his mouth, these feet as burning brass, this hair white as wool, and the rest, may suggest a few reflections on the apocalyptic, and generally the Hebrew symbolism, and the very significant relations of difference and opposition in which it stands to the Greek. Religion and art for the Greek ran into one another with no very great preponderance of the claims of the former over the latter. Even in his religious symbolism the sense of beauty, of form, of proportion, overrules every other, and must at all costs find its satisfaction; so that the first necessity of the symbol is that it shall not affront, that it shall satisfy rather, the esthetic sense. Rather than it should offend this, it would be moulded and modified even to the serious injury of the idea of which it was intended to be the exponent. But with the Hebrew symbolism it is altogether different. The first necessity there is that the symbol should set forth truly and fully the religious idea of which it is intended to be the vehicle. 65How it would appear when it clothed itself in an outward form and shape, whether it would find favour and allowance at the bar of taste, this was quite a secondary consideration; may be confidently affirmed not to have been a consideration at all; for indeed, with the one exception of the cherubim, there was no intention that it should embody itself there, but rather that it should remain ever and only a purely mental conception, the unembodied sign of an idea. I may observe, by the way, that no skill of delineation can make the cherubim other than unsightly objects to the eye. Thus in this present description of Christ, sublime and majestic as it is, it is only such so long as we keep it wholly apart from any external embodiment. Produce it outwardly, the sword going forth from the mouth, the eyes as a flame of fire, the hair white as wool, the feet as molten brass; and each and all of these images violate more or less our sense of beauty. Bengel, missing this important distinction, has sought to give a picture of the Lord Jesus according to this description, prefixing it to his German Commentary on the Apocalypse; a picture which is almost degrading, and only not deeply offensive to every feeling of reverence and awe, because we know that it was not so intended by this admirable man.88 Others have done the same, though with quite a different object and aim. I can perfectly remember seeing exposed in Carlisle’s shop-window a blasphemous picture with the title, “The God of the Bible,” constructed according to a similar scheme. Two or three days after, a Jew was brought before the magistrates, who in a righteous indignation had dashed his hand through the window, seized and destroyed it; and I do not think it appeared again.66
The explanation of the difference does not lie altogether in the fact that the Greek created his symbol, and therefore could do what he would with his own; while the Hebrew received his from God, and could not therefore venture to touch it. It would have existed more or less without this distinction between the given and the invented, the inspired and uninspired. The unsightliness, often the repulsiveness, of the symbol, so long as it is judged merely by the laws of aesthetic beauty, is common to all the religions of the East. What an ugly sight is the Artemis multimammia of Ephesus, an Oriental deity, it need not be said, and not a Greek; what monstrous forms the Indian gods, with their hundred arms, present. At the same time we should altogether err if we accepted this as a mark of the inferiority of these nations to the Greeks. Inferiority in one sense no doubt it does indicate, a slighter perception of beauty, but superiority in other and more important matters, a deeper religious earnestness, a feeling upon their part that the essence was above the form, a conviction 67that truth, such as they conceived it, was better than beauty, and that every thing else, as of lesser moment, was to be sacrificed to this. But now to return from this digression.
Ver. 17. “And when I saw Him, I fell99 On this second aorist (ἔπεσα) with the termination of the first, an Alexandrian and afterwards a Byzantine form, see Lobeck, Phrynichus, p. 724, and Sturz, De Dialecto Alexandrinâ, p. 61. at his feet as dead. And He laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not.”—-This, as is evident, is no voluntary act of homage on the part of St. John, but an involuntary consequence of what he saw. Finding, as it does, its parallel in almost all manifestations of a divine, or even an angelic, presence, it must be owned to contain a mighty, because an instinctive witness for the sinfulness of man’s nature; so that any very near revelation of ought which comes direct from heaven fills the children of men, even the holiest among them, with terror and amazement, yea, and sometimes with the expectation of death itself. Examples innumerable make plain that this holds equally true of good men and of bad (Gen. iii. 8; Exod. iii. 6; Judg. xiii. 6, 20, 22; 1 Chron. xxi. 20; Job xlii. 5, 6; Isai. vi. 5; Ezek. i. 28; iii. 23; xliii. 3; xliv. 4; Dan. viii. 17; x. 7, 8; Matt. xvii. 6; xxviii. 4, 5; Mark xvi. 5; Luke i. 12, 29; v. 8; xxiv. 5; John xviii. 6; Acts ix. 4; x. 4). The 68unholy, and all flesh is such, cannot endure immediate contact with the holy, the human with the divine. Heathen legend consents here with Christian truth. Semele must perish, if Jupiter reveals himself to her in his glory, being consumed in the brightness of that glory; cf. Exod. xxxiii. 18, 20: “Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see Me, and live.” For every man it is a dreadful thing to stand face to face with God. The beloved disciple, who had handled the Word of life, lain in his Lord’s bosom in the days of his flesh, can as little as any other endure the revelation of his majesty, or do without that “Fear not,” with which that Lord reassures him here. This same “Fear not” is uttered on similar occasions to Isaiah (vi. 7), to Daniel (x. 12), to the three at the Transfiguration, of whom John himself was one (Matt. xvii. 7). Nor is this reassurance confined to words only; the Lord at the same time lays his right hand upon him,—something parallel to which goes along with the “Fear not” of all the three cases just referred to (cf. Jer. i. 9); and from the touch of that strengthening hand the Seer receives strength again, and is set, no doubt, upon his feet once more (Ezek. i. 28; ii. 1, 2).
“I am the first and the last.”—This prerogative is three times claimed for the Lord Jehovah in Isaiah (xli. 4; xliv. 6; xlviii. 12); and in like 69manner three times in this Book (here, and ii. 8; xxii. 13). It is the expression of absolute Godhead: “I am the first and the last, and beside me there is no God” (Isai. xliv. 6). He is from eternity to eternity, so that there is no room for any other. All creation comes forth from Him (John i. 1-3), all creation returns to Him again, as from whom and by whom and to whom are all things. Not the semi-Socinian expositors alone, as Grotius and Wetstein, but others who lie under no such suspicion, Cocceius for instance, and Vitringa, have here gone astray, making “first” to mean the first in glory, and “last” the last in humiliation; “I am He who, being the foremost and first in all honour, became the lowest and last in dishonour, sounding the lowest depths of ignominy and shame.”This, which itself is true (Phil. ii. 7, 8), is yet not the truth of this place. That truth is nobly expressed in the comment of a medieval theologian, Richard of St. Victor, more than once quoted already: “Ego sum primus et novissimus. Primus per creationem, novissimus per retributionem. Primus, quia ante me non est formatus Deus; novissimus, quia post me alius non erit. Primus, quia a me sunt omnia; novissimus, quia ad me sunt omnia; a me principio, ad me finem. Primus, quia Ego sum causa originis; novissimus, quia Ego judex et finis.”70
Ver. 18. “I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen.”—.Translate rather, “And the living, and I became dead, and behold, I am living for evermore.” Gain, as it appears to me, will thus accrue to every clause of the sentence. In the first place, καὶ, connecting this verse so closely with the one preceding, will have its rights, which are wholly overlooked in our Version. Then ὁ ζῶν expresses not so much that He, the Speaker, “lived,” as that He was “the Living One,” the Life (John i. 4; xiv. 6), αὐτοζωή, having life in Himself, and the fountain and source of life to others. It is true that in one sense it is the exclusive prerogative of the Father to have life in Himself, but a prerogative which He has communicated with the Son (John v. 26); of Him too it may be said, in the words of the Psalmist, παρὰ Σοὶ πηγὴ ζωῆς (Ps. xxxvi. 10, LXX.). To Him belongs absolute being (ὄντως εἶναι), as contrasted with the relative being of the creature, with the life which may be no life, seeing that it inevitably falls under the dominion of corruption and death, so soon as it is separated from Him, the source from which it was derived; for others may share, but He only hath, immortality (1 Tim. vi. 16), being οὐσίᾳ ἀθάνατος, οὐ μετουσίᾳ (Theodoret). All this is included in Christ’s assertion here of Himself as ὅ ζῶν. Being 71thus The Living One, He goes on to say, “I yet became (ἐγενόμην) dead; I the source of all life stooped even to taste of death.” Such is the second clause, and then follows the glorious third. “This state of death endured for Me but for an instant. I laid down my life that I might take it again. I drank of the brook in the way, and therefore have I lifted up my head (Ps. cx. 7); death having now in Me been so swallowed up in life, that behold, I am living for evermore.”
“And have the keys of hell and of death.”—We should read rather “of death and of hell,” for so all the best MSS. and Versions have it, while the reading of our Translation inverts the natural and logical order; for it is death which peoples hell or Hades; it is a king Death who makes possible a kingdom of the dead (vi. 8; xx. 13, 14); for by “hell,” or Hades, this invisible kingdom or dominion of the dead is intended, and that in all its extent, not merely in one dark province of it, the region assigned to the lost. Hengstenberg indeed affirms in his own confident way that “death” here means the second death, and as a consequence that “hell” or Hades, can mean only Gehenna; observing that in the New Testament this second death is alone set forth as an object of fear. But why is it that the other death, itself the outward sign and seal of God’s extreme indignation against 72sin, has ceased to be an object of terror, has been robbed for the faithful of its sting? Why, except for that fact which we find proclaimed in these words, namely, that the Son of God has gone down into the dark realms of shadows and returned from it again—and not this only, but returned from it a conqueror, having overcome death, and burst, like another Samson (Judg. xvi. 3), the gates of the city of the grave which shut Him in; and in pledge of this having the keys of both, the absolute Lord who opens and shuts them at his will for all the children of men. For myself I cannot doubt, above all when I look at the words which immediately go before, that Christ sets Himself forth here as the overcomer of death natural; which it must always be remembered is rather death unnatural; for man was made for immortality (Gen. ii. 17), and death is the denial and reversal of the true law of his being (Rom. v. 12). He who is the Prince of life is indeed but saying here what already He had been bold to say, while the victory was yet unwon: “I am the Resurrection and the Life;” life, that is, in conflict with death, and overcoming it. The keys are the emblems of authority (cf. iii. 7); to have the keys is to have the power of Himself going in and out as He pleases, of admitting and excluding, shutting up and delivering others: cf. Deut. xxxii. 39, “I kill and I make 73alive;” and 1 Sam. ii. 6. The metaphor rests on the conception of Hades as a city with walls and gates; Christ had spoken in his earthly life of the πύλαι Ἅιδου (Matt. xvi. 18; cf. Isai. xxxviii. 10; Job xxxviii. 17).
Let me express here, before leaving this subject, the regret
which all who have thoughtfully compared our Version with the original must feel
that the one word “hell” covers there two words of such difference in meaning
as ᾅδης and γέεννα, the first
“Sheol,” the gathering-place of all departed souls,
the second the λίμνη τοῦ πυρός of this Book (xix. 20; xx. 10), the final abode
of the lost. All must lament the manifold confusions which out of this have arisen;
the practical loss indeed among our people of any doctrine about Hades at all. I
have entered into this more at full elsewhere,1010 On the Authorized Version of the New Testament, 2d edit. p. 20. and have quite acknowledged the
difficulty of taking any other course, so that it is much easier to note the fault
than to suggest the remedy. The relations of ᾅδης
to γέεννα, and also to παράδεισος,
are well put in this extract from a funeral sermon of Jeremny Taylor: “The word
Αιδης signifies indefinitely the state of separation, whether blessed or accursed;
it means only ‘the invisible place,’ or the region of darkness, whither whoso descends
74shall be no more
seen. For as among the heathens the Elysian fields and Tartara are both ἐν
Ἅιδου,1111 As witness the lines of the comic poet:,
καὶ γὰρ καθ Ἅιδην δύο τρίβους νομίζομεν,
μίαν δικαίων, κατέραν ἀσεβῶν ὁδόν. so among the Jews and Christians paradisus and gehenna are the distinct states of Hades.”1212 A little work by König, Die Lehre von Christi Höllenfahrt, 1842, gives admirably the whole teaching of Scripture, and in an historic sketch that of the Church, concerning Hades.
Ver. 19. “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.”—It is certainly a piece of carelessness on the part of our Translators to have omitted, which none of the previous translators had done, the οὖν (“Write therefore”), about the right of which to a place in the text no question has been ever made. With what intention the illative particle is used, is not so easy to determine; perhaps it is best referred to what goes immediately before: “Seeing that I am this mighty One, the first and last, who was dead and am alive, do thou therefore write; for the things declared by Me are all steadfast and sure.”
Ver. 20. “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and of the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the Angels of the seven Churches, and the seven candlesticks 75which thou sawest are the seven Churches.”—We may either regard the first sentence as governed by the “Write” of the verse preceding; so no doubt our Translators, who place only a comma at the conclusion of that verse; or else, placing a full-stop there, regard these words as a sort of nominative absolute, the statement of the “mystery,” or spiritual riddle, of which the solution follows in the latter half of the verse. This distribution seems to me certainly preferable to the other. A “mystery” in the constant language of Scripture is something which man is capable of knowing, but only when it has been revealed to him by God (Matt. xiii. 11; Rom. xi. 25; Ephes. vi. 19; 1 Cor. xiii. 2), and not through any searching of his own. Thus, as has been well observed, μυστήριον and ἀποκάλυψις are correlative terms (Rom. xvi. 25); and as in the former clauses of the present verse there is the μυστήριον, so in the latter the ἀποκάλυψις μυστήριου. From this, the revelation of the mystery, we learn that “the seven stars are the Angels of the seven Churches.” In all the typical language of Scripture stars are symbols of lordship and authority, ecclesiastical or civil. Thus a star is the symbol of the highest dominion of all; “There shall come a star out of Jacob” (Num. xxiv. 7); and the actual birth of Him whom Balaam prophesied of here, is announced by a star (Matt. ii. 2). 76Faithful teachers are stars that shall shine for ever (Dan. xii. 3); false teachers are wandering stars (Jude 13), or stars which fall from heaven (Rev. viii. 10; vi. 13; xii. 4). But “the Angels of the seven Churches” have given occasion to much discussion and dispute; and only when we know exactly what they mean, shall we feel perfectly sure that we have interpreted the “stars” aright; or rather that we have apprehended aright the interpretation of them given here by the Spirit.
Some, then, have understood by the “Angels” the heavenly messengers who bear this name. They urge that often elsewhere in this Book as the word “Angel” recurs, it is never in any other sense; therefore that in these we are to recognize the guardian Angels over the several Churches, “their Angels;” that if single persons had thus their Angels (Matt. xviii. 10; cf. Acts xii. 15), much more the same might be predicated of Churches (Dan. xii. 1). Thus Origen (Hom. xiii. in Luc.): “Si audacter expedit loqui Scripturarum sensum sequenti, per singulas Ecclesias bini sunt Episcopi, alius visibilis, alius invisibilis; ille visui carnis, hic sensui patens. Et quomodo homo, si commissam sibi dispensationem bene egerit, laudatur a Domino, si male culpæ et vitio subjacet, sic et Angelus.” And again (Hom. xx. in Num.): “Secundum ea quæ Johannes in Apocalypsi scribit, 77unicuique Ecclesiæ generaliter Angelus præest, qui vel collaudatur pro bene gestis populi, vel etiam pro delictis ejus culpatur. In quo etiam stupendi mysterii admiratione permoveor, quod intantum Deo cura de nobis est, ut etiam Angelos suos culpari pro nobis et confutari patiatur. Sic enim cum pædagogo traditur puer, si forte minus dignis, nec secundum paternam nobilitatem imbutus appareat disciplinis, continuo culpa ad pædagogum refertur, nec ita puer a patre ut pædagogus arguitur.” Cf. Jerome (In Mich. vi. 1, 2), who has evidently copied this passage.
The preoccupation of an obvious objection is in the words just quoted ingeniously attempted, but not successfully accomplished. Indeed the objection is one which it is impossible to surmount: this, namely, How could holy Angels be charged with such delinquencies as are laid to the charge of some of the Angels here (ii. 4; iii. 1, 15)? See some good observations on this point in Augustine (Ep. 43, § 22: “Angelo Ecclesiæ Ephesi scribe; Quod si de Angelo superiorum cœ lorum, et non de præpositis Ecclesiæ vellet intelligi, non consequenter diceret: Sed habeo adversum te, quod caritatem primam reliquisti. Hoc de superioribius Angelis dici non potest, qui perpetuam retinent caritatem, unde qui defecerunt et lapsi sunt, diabolus est et angeli ejus.”78
This then of the “Angels” meaning heavenly Angels may certainly be dismissed. Even all which Alford has urged in its favour will be unable, I am persuaded, to procure any wide acceptance for it. The Angel must be some person or persons in the Church on earth, not one overlooking it from heaven. I say some person or persons, not as myself thinking it possible that he can represent a plurality, but having in view explanations which by some have been offered, and on which something will have to be said.
But if some human person in the Church, who but the chief shepherd, in other words, the bishop? To whom else would all which we here in these Epistles find ascribed to the Angel apply? For myself, I cannot but think that the argument for the existence of the episcopate in the later apostolic times, and that as a divinely recognized institution, which may be drawn from the position of the Angels in the several Churches, and from the language in which they are addressed, is exceedingly strong. Tile Angel in each Church is one; but surely none can suppose for an instant that there was only one presbyter, or other minister serving in holy things, for the whole flourishing Church of Ephesus, or of Smyrna; and that we are in this way to account for the single Angel of the several Churches. Thirty years before this time St. Paul 79had uttered his parting words at Miletus to the elders of the Ephesian Church (Acts xx. 17), and certainly addressed them even then as many (ver. 25). Taking into account what we know of the spread of the Christian faith in these parts daring the intermediate time, it is probable that their number was at this time largely increased. And yet now, with this large number of presbyters, there is only one Angel in each of these Churches. What can he be but a bishop?—a bishop too with the prerogatives which we ascribe to one. His preeminence cannot be explained away, as though he had been merely a ruling elder, a primus inter pares, with only such authority and jurisdiction as the others, his peers, may have lent him. For the great Bishop of souls who is here on his spiritual visitation, every where holds the Angel responsible for the spiritual condition of his Church; for the false teaching which he has not put down, for the false teachers whom he has not separated from the communion of the faithful,—in short, for every disorder in doctrine or discipline which has remained unrepressed. But Christ could not so deal with them, could not charge them personally with these negligences and omissions, unless upon the ground that they had been clothed with power and authority sufficient to have prevented them, so that these 80evils could only have existed through their neglect and allowance.
By what has been just said it is not intended in the least to affirm that bishops were commonly called Angels in the primitive Church, or called so at all, except with a more or less conscious reference to the use of the word in the Apocalypse. There is a certain mysteriousness, and remoteness from the common language of men, in the adoption of this term, and such there is intended to be. It belongs to the enigmatic symbolic character of the Book, elevated in its language throughout above the level of daily life. Those to whom this title is ascribed are herein presented to the Church as clothed with a peculiar dignity, and are herein themselves reminded that they stand before One, whose ministries of grace and love they should be swift to fulfil on earth, even as those whose names they bear are swift to fulfil them in heaven. There is then a certain, though very partial right in what Origen taught; and “Angel” is a heavenly title here; but a heavenly title which has been borrowed by earth, which has been transferred and applied to men; a transfer not without its analogies in the Old Testament (Eccles. v. 5; Mal. ii. 7; iii. 1); and rendered more easy by the fact that Angel is a name not designating the personality, but the 81office, of those heavenly beings by whom it properly is borne.
It is not to be supposed that those who believe the government of the Church to have been presbyterian at the first, and who see in the episcopate a result of declension from apostolic purity, should accept these conclusions. At the same time they are far from being at one in the ways by which they have sought to evade the argument for primitive episcopacy which we believe that we are here justified in finding.
Thus some affirm that the Angel represents and stands for not any single person, but the whole body of the προεστῶτες, the collective presbytery, contemplated and addressed not as many, but as one. So for the most part the early anti-episcopal Protestants, Brightman for example; and even Hengstenberg has not disdained to fall back on this unworthy subterfuge; the mere statement of which involves its condemnation. Vitringa (De Synag. Vet. p. 911) with more candour mentions this only to reject it, and finds a clear testimony here for the superior dignity of one in these several Churches; though naturally the episcopate which he thus recognizes, is of the mildest form, of the Usherian type; and Beza in like manner glosses τῷ ἀγγέλῳ, i. e. προεστῶτι; though, curiously enough, he considers that the upgrowth of the tyrannous hierarchy of 82Rome is evidence sufficient that, however there were προεστῶτες in these apostolic Churches, it was never intended of God that such should always continue in the Church.
But there is a poorer evasion even than this; which has lately been revived by Ebrard. It rests on an entirely gratuitous assumption, on the fiction, namely, that the seven Churches had sent their messengers to St. John at Patmos, therefore called the “Angels,” or messengers (cf. Luke ix. 52) “of the Churches.” These in these Epistles are now successively addrest, that they may bring back his word, or rather the word of Christ, to those Churches from which they had been deputed. But in answering a letter by a messenger, you write by, you do not usually write to, him; nor is it easy to see where is the correspondency between such messengers, subordinate officials of the Churches, and stars; or what the mystery of the relation between them then would be; or how the Lord should set forth as an eminent prerogative of his, that He held the seven stars, that is, the seven messengers. in his right hand (ii. 1). The scheme breaks down at every point, and among many lame and feeble shifts must needs be regarded as the lamest and feeblest of all. I again repeat my conviction that in these Angels we are to recognize the bishops of the several Churches. So many difficulties, embarrassments, 83improbabilities attend every other solution, all which disappear with the adoption of this, while no others rise in their room, that, were not other interests, often no doubt unconsciously, at work, it would be very hard to understand how any could have ever arrived at a different conclusion.
I will take the opportunity of a pause here between this, the Introduction to the seven Epistles, and the seven Epistles themselves, to say a few needful words on the mystery of the number seven; which only I have left unsaid so long, because unwilling to interrupt the exposition by any thing in the shape of a dissertation; not to say that I found it difficult to attach to any one of those important sevens which have already occurred, considerations which properly belonged to them all.
Even the most careless reader of the Apocalypse must be struck with the manner in which almost every thing there is ordered by sevens. Thus, besides the seven Churches, and their seven Angels, we have already in this first chapter the seven Spirits (ver. 4), the seven candlesticks (ver. 12), the seven stars (ver. 16); and then further the seven lamps of fire (iv. 5), the seven seals (v. 1), the seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb (v. 6), the seven heavenly Angels and the seven trumpets (viii. 2), the seven thunders (x. 3), the seven heads of the 84dragon, and the seven crowns upon these heads (xii. 3), the same of the beast rising out of the sea (xiii. 1), the seven last plagues (xv. 1), the seven vials (xv. 7), the seven mountains (xvii. 9), the seven kings (xvii. 10); not to speak of other recurrences, not so obvious, of this number seven as the signature of the Book; as, for instance, the distribution of it into seven visions, the sevenfold ascription of glory to the Lamb (v. 12), and to God (vii. 12).
But indeed the recurrence, and, as I shall seek to show, the symbolic dignity of the number seven runs through the whole of Scripture from first to last,—to say nothing of the echoes of this sense of its significance which abound in every religion of heathendom;1313 ”Die alIgemeine Heiligkeit der Siebenzahl haben die Alten schon in allen Beziehungen bemerkt.” Creuzer, Symbolik, vol. ii. p. 161, where see a large collection of the literature on the subject. and if it is more strongly marked in the Apocalypse than in any other book of Scripture, it is only that this, like so much else, has culminated here. Should it be asked, What is the special significance, and what the sacredness and peculiar dignity of seven, of what is it the signature, the answer is not very hard to give. A careful induction from all the passages where this number cannot be regarded as fortuitous, but is evidently of Divine ordinance and appointment (I call fortuitous such sevens as occur, Acts xix. 14; xx. 6), will leave no 85doubt that it claims throughont Scripture to be considered as the covenant number, the sign and signature of God’s covenant relation to mankind, and above all to that portion of mankind with which this relation is not potential merely, but actual, namely the Church.
The evidences of this reach back to the very beginning. We meet them first in the hallowing of the seventh day, in pledge and token of the covenant of God with man (Gen. ii. 3; cf. Ezek. xx. 12), as indeed in the binding up of seven in the very word Sabbath.1414 It was therefore a true instinct of hatred against a divine institution which led those who in the first French Revolution proclaimed the abolition of the Christian religion, to make war also on the Christian week, the distribution of time by sevens, and to substitute that by decades in its stead. They felt that here was a witness for God in the world, a witness that He was the measurer out of our times to us, which must not be allowed to survive. So too circumcision, being the sign of a covenant, is accomplished on the eighth, or after seven days (Gen. xvii. 12; Lev. xii. 3). And as seven is the signature of God’s covenant with man, so of all man’s covenants with his fellows, resting as these do and must, on the anterior covenant with God; thus of treaties of peace (Gen. xxi. 20), of marriages (Judg. xiv. 12). Nor should it be left unnoticed that the word seven is again bound up in the Hebrew word signifying an oath, or a covenant confirmed with an oath. Seven 86is the number of sacrifice, by aid of which the covenant once established, is continually maintained in its first vigour and strength, and the relations between God and man, which sin is evermore disturbing, and threatening to bring to an end, are restored (2 Chron. xxix. 21; Job xlii. 8; cf. Num. xxiii. 1, 14, 29). It is the number of purification and consecration, as the fruits of the sacrifice (Lev. iv. 6, 17; viii. 11, 33; xiv. 9, 51; xvi. 14, 19; Num. xix. 12, 19), of forgiveness (Matt. xviii. 21, 22; Luke xvii. 4). Then, again, seven is the number of every grace and benefit bestowed upon Israel; which is thus marked as flowing out of the covenant and a consequence of it. The priests compass Jericho seven days, and on the seventh day seven times, that all Israel may know that the city is given into their hands by their God; and that its conquest is a direct and immediate result of their covenant relation to Him (Josh. vi. 4, 15, 16). Naaman is to dip in Jordan seven times, that he may acknowledge the God of Israel the author of his cure (2 Kings v. 10). It is the number of reward to those that are faithful in the covenant (Deut. xxviii. 7; 1 Sam. ii. 5); of punishment to those who are froward in the covenant (Lev. xxvi. 21, 24, 28; Deut. xxviii. 25; 2 Sam. xii. 8; xxiv. 13), or to those who injure the people in it (Gen. iv. 15, 24; Ps. lxxix. 12; Exod. vii. 25); or again of punishment, regarded in the 87light of a making of amends, a readjusting of the disturbed balances of justice, and so a restoring of harmony between the sinner and the outraged law of God (Prov. vi. 31). All the feasts, as must be obvious to every one, are ordered by seven, or else by seven multiplied into seven (7 x 7), and thus made intenser still. Thus it is, not to recur again to Sabbath, the mother of all feasts, with the Passover (Exod. xii. 15, 16), the feast of weeks (Deut. xvi. 9), of tabernacles (Deut. xvi. 13, 15), the sabbath-year (Lev. xxv. 2, 3; Deut. xv. 1), and the jubilee (Lev. xxv. 8).1515 See Philo, De Septenario, passim.
Further we may observe that wherever God is at work in the history of other nations outside of the covenant, while yet He would make it plainly to appear that it is for Israel’s sake, and having respect to the covenant, that He is so working, this signature of seven in his dealing with those nations is never wanting. Thus it is the number of the years of plenty and of the years of famine, in sign that these were sent not so much for Egypt’s sake, as for Israel’s, and as conducing to the divine preparation through which the chosen people were to pass (Gen. xli. 26, 27). Seven times pass over Nebuchadnezzar, that he may learn in his abasement how that the God of his Jewish captives is indeed the King over all the earth (Dan. iv. 16, 23, 25). 88But it would be endless to go through all passages in proof; it would need to quote or refer to a great part of Scripture. I prefer leaving to the student of God’s Word to fill up the sketch which I have drawn, and to find for himself further confirmation of what has been asserted here.
But if it should be further asked, Why has seven been selected for this, what are the grounds of its adoption to this high dignity and honour, the answer does not seem very far to seek. I am indeed aware that in all speculations upon numbers we may very profitably lay to heart the wise caution of Fuller,1616 A Pisgah Sight of Palestine, b. iii. c. 6. clothed, as is ever the case with his wisdom, in witty words: “For matter of numbers fancy is never at a loss, like a beggar never out of his way, but hath some haunts where to repose itself. But such as in expounding of Scripture reap more than God did sow there, never eat what they reap thence, because such grainless husks, when seriously threshed out, vanish all into chaff.” And yet I feel very sure that in this matter we need not dread lest we should be threshing barren ears, with only chaff for our pains.
To the question then asked above it may be replied by first calling attention to the fact that the number seven results from the combination of three and four. But can it be shown that these in Scripture 89have severally any symbolic significance of their own? Assuredly yes. Three, the signature of God; four, that of the world; and thus seven, or these numbers brought into contact and relation, the token and signature of the covenant between these two.
That three is the number of God, of the ever-blessed Trinity, this of itself needs no proof And it is so recognized in Scripture. There are vestiges of this in the Old Testament, in the Trisagion of Isai. vi. 3; in the blessing as from three distinct persons, Num. vi. 24-26; in the prominent position assumed there by the Angel of the Covenant, hereafter to be acknowledged as the second Person of the Trinity, in the often mention not of God, but the Spirit of God, hereafter to be acknowledged as the third (Gen. i. 2; Ps. li. 11). These footprints of the Trinity are purposely more or less obscure, and only clear when they are read in the light of a later revelation; for the office of the Church of the Old Testament was to guard the truth of the unity of the Godhead, not to declare the Trinity; which indeed, so long as polytheism was not overcome, but still had its roots even in the minds of the chosen people itself, could not yet have been safely declared. Here is explanation amply sufficient, of the reserve with which the number three is employed in the Old Testament as the signature 90of Deity; the reason why this is only perfectly plain and clear in the New.
Four, the next number to three, and growing immediately out of it, is the signature of the world—of the world, not indeed as a rude undigested mass, but as a κόσμος, as the revelation, so far as nature can be the revelation, of God. Four is stamped every where on this the organized world. Thus, not to speak of the four elements, the four seasons, neither of which are recognized in Scripture, we have there the four winds (Ezek. xxxvii. 9; Matt. xxiv. 31; Rev. vii. 1); the four corners of the earth (Rev. vii. 1; xx. 8); the four living creatures, emblems of all creaturely life (Rev. iv. 6), and each of these with four faces and four wings (Ezek. i. 5, 6); the four beasts coming up from the sea, and representing the four great world-empires which in the providence of God should succeed one another (Dan. vii. 3); the four metals composing the image which sets forth the same phases of empire (Dan. ii. 32, 33); the four Gospels, or the foursided Gospel (εὐαγγέλιον τετράγωνον, as one called it of old), in sign of its designation for all the world; the sheet tied at the four corners (Acts x. 11; xi. 5);1717 Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. ci. Serm. iii.): “Discus qui quatuor lineis continebatur orbis terrarum crat in quatuor partibus. Has quatuor partes sæpe Scriptura commemorat, orientem et occidentem, aquilonem et meridiem. Ideo quia totus orbis per Evangelium vocabatur, quatuor Evangelia conscripta sunt.” the four horns, the sum total of the 91forces of the world as arrayed against the Church (Zech. i. 18); the enumeration, wherever this is wished to be exhaustive, of the inhabitants of the world by four, kindreds, tongues, peoples, and nations (Rev. v. 9; cf. vii. 9; x. 11; xi. 9; xiv. 6; xvii. 15).
There are reasons then amply sufficient why seven, being thus, as it is, made up of three and four, should be itself the signature of the covenant. No mere accident or caprice dictated the selection of it. And if this number of the covenant, then we can account for its constant recurrence in this Book; for admitting, as few would refuse to do, that the idea of God’s covenant with his Church as the key to all history, comes to its head in the Apocalypse, it is nothing wonderful that this Book should be more markedly ordered by seven, and have this number stamped upon it even more strongly, than any other portion of Scripture.1818 On this whole subject of the symbolic worth and dignity of numbers in Scripture, see Bahr, Symbolik des Mos. Cultus, vol. i. pp. 128-209; and a good article by Kurtz, in the Theoll. Stud. u. Krit. 1844, pp. 315-370.
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